Watertown’s fire chief: city would save money by hiring more firefighters

Published: Feb. 6, 2023 at 5:15 PM EST
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WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - Watertown’s fire department is set to rack up $1.2 million in overtime in its current budget. Fire Chief Matt Timerman says if the city hired more firefighters, it could actually save money.

He crunched the numbers and came up with two recommendations. Both include increasing the number of firefighters.

Ultimately, he says it could save the city more than $100,000.

Timerman wants to add 6 more firefighters. That would bring the department up to 72 firefighters.

The chief says his department is ripping through overtime to cover shifts. In fact, Timerman says with 6 months to go in his budget he has already spent 87 percent of what he has for overtime.

By the end of June, he predicts he will have spent $1.2 million in overtime.

Timerman’s first idea is to hire 6 more firefighters. Paying them their salaries, health insurance and state benefits would offset what the department is paying now in overtime and actually save the city around $105,000 a year.

His second idea would save $58,000. That would bump up staffing to 68.

Council Member Cliff Olney says he wants to look at the math the chief is doing and ask questions.

“We certainly need the staffing we have to have over there, but you also have to consider the morale, and what the safety factor is with having fewer people than what we need,” he said.

Council Member Patrick Hickey wants to go beyond the chief’s recommendations and hire more, sort of “over hire” so the department is ready for upcoming retirements. There could be two this year and it takes 5 to 6 months to fill the position due to training.

Dan Daugherty, president of the firefighters’ union, tells 7 News understaffing has been a long-time problem and “has been an issue the union has brought up year after year, and management/council has always decided to pay overtime instead of staff accordingly.”

Timerman will lay out his ideas and answer questions at Monday night’s council meeting.